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Opportunities and Barriers to Achieving Transitions in UK Energy and Materials Use – The Role of Publics, Society and Decision-Makers

Whether viewed from a resources, energy or carbon perspective, a radical reduction in the UK’s material footprint is needed. Moving beyond production efficiency improvements, a number of strategies have been proposed to rethink systems of production and consumption, reconfiguring the way we design our products, the business models that supply these products, and the concepts of ownership and service provision. This more ‘circular’ economic model could include: 1) increasing product longevity (e.g., encouraging product repair/remanufacturing using models such as extended warranties, upgradability, incentivised return and leasing), 2) shifts from ownership to service provision (i.e., citizens pay for services such as lighting or washing, whilst ownership of products remains with the service provider) and 3) the possibilities for increasing collaborative consumption (i.e., the redistribution of goods through peer-to-peer selling, sharing or renting). However, new ways of designing, using, and delivering products, materials and services will also raise profound social challenges. We argue that such changes make implicit assumptions about the role of citizens (both in terms of uptake of new forms of provision and in the relationships between businesses and consumers that they imply). As part of the EPSRC Centre for Industrial Energy, Materials and Products (CIE-MAP), our research aims to explore the social meanings, practices and values surrounding the social and technical futures that may evolve from new resource efficient business models, with both expert stakeholders and wider publics.

In order to gain a better understanding of the full range of possible scenarios and strategies that are envisaged for moving towards a low carbon, low material future, Phase 1 involved conducting a series of stakeholder interviews with experts from a range of backgrounds, including: Government/Policy makers; NGOs; Academics/Consultants; Industry/Business; SMEs/community organisations. Commencing in autumn 2016, Phase 2 of our project will conduct a series of deliberative workshops with members of the public, exploring the future of consumption and the different implications new business models may have for everyday life. This will be followed by Phase 3, a nationally representative survey of members of the British public further exploring the issues and ideas raised within the workshops. The hope is that through this innovative research programme, we will be able to pinpoint key areas of public agreement and contestation regarding proposals for materials demand reduction and identify the values that underpin people’s decisions and attitudes towards change. A full report of the findings will be published on completion of the project in autumn 2018.


Cardiff University – Nick Pidgeon, Catherine Cherry, and Katharine Steentjes

External – John Barrett (University of Leeds), Geoff Hammond (University of Bath), and Tim Cooper (Nottingham Trent University)

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